• A Ninth For Two

    Music for two pianos is a genre that often allows for ways to hear larger-scale concert music pared down into a more intimate genre.  Throughout the 19th Century it was common practice for pianists to create transcriptions of symphonies and operas for their own public performances.  A wider opportunity for published works for the advanced amateur also encouraged these many transcriptions.  Franz Liszt is perhaps most well known for doing just this and his transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies, albeit for solo (!) piano, are among the most challenging in the repertoire.  They give a chance to admire Beethoven's music as well as Liszt's own pianism.  The current release ((Navona 6382) is a new version of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony but for two pianos!

    Pianist Eliane Rodrigues has taken Liszt's work as a point of departure and inspiration for her own adaptation for 2 pianos.  This new performance is not a direct orchestral reduction, nor a note-for-note reassignment of Liszt's transcription.  Instead, Rodrigues applies her own sense of the Beethoven's pianistic style with her own reading of the symphony.  It allows her to craft a piece that sounds in line with Beethoven's solo sonatas and this allows for a greater reveal of some of the inner workings of the symphony, especially in the development sections.

    Nina Smeets is Rodrigues' daughter and this adds an additional poignancy to the performance as well as we hear these two performers playing together.  There is a unity of attack and approach to shaping phrases both thematically and in the accompanimental sections that draw the listener in to this very special performance.  There is plenty of technical virtuosity to go around here and it is fascinating to hear how this transfers from one piano to the other as echo effects.

    Certainly, this represents one of the finer releases in either soloists discography to date.  It allows for the listener to enjoy Beethoven's music in this new way and stylistically it works quite well.

  • Reimagining Beethoven Bagatelles and Ravel


    Reimagine: Beethoven and Ravel
    Inna Faliks, piano.
    Navona 6352
    Total Time:  76:43
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Pianist Inna Faliks teaches at UCLA where she if Professor of Piano and Head of Piano.  Her career began with performances at the Gilmore Festival and with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when she was a teenager.  She has garnered plenty of critical attention for her performances of standard repertoire and interpretations of Beethoven in a 2014 release.  Seeking out new repertoire to pair with more familiar fare is a hallmark of her own public concerts.  The present release is an interesting concept album that builds on that repetition.

    The album at its core focuses on the Op. 126 bagatelles that Beethoven completed towards the end of his life and which were published in 1825.  The six brief pieces are believed to be more an integral work connected by the key relationships that move by major thirds from one to the next.  At another level, they can also feel like brief explorations of approaches that Beethoven was also exploring in the late sonatas and the ninth symphony.

    For this release, Faliks commissioned six additional pieces from her colleagues at UCLA.  Each was given one of the Beethoven pieces to create an original response to each of the pieces.  The album presents these new works in sequential alternation.  It is a rather odd though to hear the Beethoven after each of the new works as it would have been worth being refamiliarized with each one of these before the contemporary inspirations.  That can be easily remedied with some reprogramming if one wants.  But otherwise one then hears them more as echoes of the past.  Peter Golub launches things off with a reflective jazz-like ballad take.  Taking a four-note motif as a launching point, Tamir Hendelman has a more modern perpetual motion-like approach with a moment of repose before the spinning returns. Now part of his own set of 11 bagatellles, Richard Danielpour’s “Childhood Nightmare” uses the opening of its source material and then descends into a darker realm.  On a more cerebral structural approach, Ian Krouse created an etude “on a non-octave-replicating mode” in a piece that somewhat deconstructs aspects of its source material, but stays within a tonal realm.  The extended harmonies of Golub’s approach are echoed in the intimate piece crafted by Mark Carlson that has Impressionistic qualities.  Finally, David Lefkowitz tackles the final work’s ternary structure, exploration of three-bar phrases, and interesting harmonic ideas that works to meld these seemingly disparate elements into a new cohesive whole.  The style here has an equally deconstructive feel with its more angular writing and shifts of tone.

    Falkis has recorded Ravel’s Gasard le Nuit and while it would be nice to have that paired with the final three works on the album, one will need to track down her performance for another day.  Taking a similar approach to the Beethoven commissions, she turned to three different composers to craft new works based on Ravel’s different movements.  The result are three standalone pieces that can also be heard as their own triptych.   Paola Prestini focuses on the sonic qualities of “Ondine” in her two-movement work Variations on a Spell.  “Le Gibet” gets a more extensive treatment in Timo Andres’ fascinating Old Ground and things come to an exciting conclusion in Pursuit: Billy Childs take on “Scarbo”.  These three works provide some windows into Faliks’ technical virtuosity a bit more than the Beethoven pieces did.  Those tend to highlight her interpretive, lyrical playing well.  So taken together, this ample collection of pieces gives listeners a good appreciation of her skills.

    Faliks performances are solid here and the works make extensive exploration of the rich sound of the piano which is captured well in this release.  These re-imaginings make a fine introduction to Falkis’ programming approaches and the Beethoven performances should stand well against any others.